Saturday, January 24, 2009

2009 Sheepherder's Party

The Sheepherder's Party was recently held at the Border Inn, located out on the Utah/Nevada stateline. This area, generally called the West Desert, has been a big winter sheepherding area for over a century. This party is put on to encourage sheepherders, sheep owners, and others involved in the sheep industry to celebrate their heritage and to take a break from the mundane routines of winter.

Denys Koyle, owner of the Border Inn, organized the event, which went from Friday evening to the wee hours of Saturday night. Friday night was a dinner and sheepherder's stories; Saturday was a pancake breakfast, presentation by Sourdough Slim, a dinner, and the sheepherder's ball, with lots of good music to kick up your heels to. In addition, the Great Basin National Heritage Route conducted oral histories, Great Basin National Park opened the new visitor center with recently installed exhibits, and some folks took a water tour to learn more about Snake Valley.

Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons opened the program Friday evening with remarks.

Some of the actual sheepherders came. There aren't so many of them anymore as transportation has improved. Nevertheless, they still do a lot of the sheepherding the old-fashioned way, living in small sheep camps, riding horses to move the sheep, and having only their border collies and sheep dogs for company most of the time. At one point most of the sheepherders were Basque, but today they are all from Peru.

Sourdough Slim showed off his excellent musical abilities and sense of humor.

The program included those of all ages, including young Melanie singing a pretty song in her pink cowgirl hat.

This gentleman showed off a quilt his made. He explained that he wore the elbows out of his wool shirts, and they would mysteriously disappear from the closet. He wanted his wife just to cut the sleeves off to make short-sleeved summer shirts, but she used them to make this beautiful quilt--her 100th quilt!

The emcee was the garrulous and hilarious Hank Vogler. His son got up to take his turn at filling the room with hot air.

No program is complete without a little cowboy poetry. Here is the Sheepherder's Lament by Jack Ingram, about the difficulties of getting a wife while herding sheep:

And then came something new for me: cowboy yodeling. I really enjoyed it. If you want to hear more, Sourdough Slim will be performing at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada the end of January, or you can get CDs from his website.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Memories of Baker Softball

What could be better than a late Sunday afternoon of softball played on a dirt field surrounded by the expanse of a beautiful high desert valley? Not much.

That was Baker softball in the 1980’s
Bill Ilchik and Jack Dalton
We didn’t start out surrounded by immense views. We started playing at the old Baker School yard. It was the only backstop in town. Players would come from all around the valley along with spectators. It was a tight space for the game and the power hitters. The school building, teacher’s house and the trees were all really close. The game was delayed a lot as we searched for the ball hit into the “rough”. I don’t remember exactly, but I bet a few windows were broken. It was fun.

Looking for a new field became a priority. Through the good graces of Dean Baker and the Baker Ranch we soon were fixing a new field south of the Baker Ranch apartments. It turned out to be one of the few places around Baker that wasn’t rocky. Nice sandy soil made a great sliding surface. Joe Griggs found some chain link for the backstop. He and Dean got the county to cover the liability, Dave Moore came up with some large and long iron pipes, Dennis Schlabtz augured the holes and boomed the pipes into place and Baker Ranch helped clear the ground. Bill Rountree, Bill Ilchik, Marty Reed from the Fish Hatchery and Russ Groves were all a part of the project and soon we had a great backstop, a swing-set, volley ball area and outhouse. A couple of picnic tables and we were set. (And now “Dear Reader”, here is where I need your memories. Who else was there and what other details can you remember?)

L to R Randy Wilson, Diane Bullock, Susannah Barnes. Julie Gregson, Dave Baker,???, Kristi Kaiser, Jerry Pelk, Val Taylor, ??? Dean Baker & Pete Kaiser

Michelle ?, & Tom Baker on the balance beam

We brought the old home plate and bases, which were starting to fall apart. After a game or two, I made covers for the bases out of heavy denim with machine embroidery that spelled “Gucci”, “Yves St. Laurent” and “Channel” and Voila we had “designer bags” for our bases. Next season we took up a collection and purchased a new set of really good bases. We had a great ball field.

Some players didn’t have gloves so when the side was out and the other team took the field, gloves were handed off to the players without gloves. Those with bats brought them and someone always brought softballs. At one time we even had orange and white team shirts and hats donated by Laura Dean and Kathy Rountree. Thus equipped we played until it was too dark to see the ball.

Kathy Kaiser-Rountree

Baker Softball rules were different.
Rule #1 was everyone got to play. To this end we “chose up sides” rather than having teams. Every one was picked right down to the smallest kid who wanted to play. Sometime we had 25 people per team. The outfield was full! We had shortstops, middle stops, short short stops, well you get the picture. If you came late you just joined the side that was short a player. If not enough players came, we played work-up.
Rule #2 - Little kids got to bat until they hit the ball. Then you should have seen the gross ineptitude of the infield fumbling the ball, throwing it the wrong way, and generally messing up until the little player made it to first base.
Rule #3 - If you were too old, out of shape, or otherwise couldn’t run you could bat and use a “pinch runner”.
Rule #4 Follow the real rules.

Joe Gleason, a retired banker and Bob Hunter, retired auto mechanic both from southern Nevada were our main umpires. Bob had the best Major League umpire “you’rrrre OOUUUT!! move you've ever seen.

Pete Kaiser, “ump” Joe Gleason, Russ Groves, John Sheppard

Players came from all over the valley and even Ely. More organized games were played against other teams once in a while. The better players amongst us put together a regular team and played Garrison, a Stanford field camp team, the Park Service and others. Once the team caravaned up to Ibapah to play, stopping at Blue Mass for a picnic. This outing was organized by Bill Ilchik and is remember by the players as one of the great times. Baker won.

A women’s softball team from Utah, going home from a tournament stopped at the Outlaw for burgers and wound up playing. They stomped us. We only got one hit.

As the seasons went on water fights broke out more and more. What better way to end a game on a hot summer night than with a rousing dowsing. It all culminated in the most spectacular water fight Baker had ever seen. Without saying much, word got around and people came prepared with all manner of water containers, Russ Grove built a water balloon catapult in the back of his truck. As the game wound down, tentatively a few cups of water were thrown, the squirt guns came out, Russ started lobbing water balloons, But wait what’s that? OMG here comes the Ranch water tanker truck equipped with a pump and fire hose. A water balloon catapult was no match for that. The Baker boys trumped us all. There’s an enduring snapshot memory of Kristy Ferguson holding Willis by an ankle, dunking him in a cooler, up down, up down with him yelling Maaaa!. And needless to say there was not a dry player in the house.

There were some injuries, sprains, bruises and that sort of thing. Jody Dalton loved to pitch. Once she was hit in the forehead by a line drive. The ball caromed straight up in the air, the ever alert Bill Rountree rushed to her aid from first base, on the way he caught the ball, flipped it to third base for a double play and was still the first one at the fallen player’s side. Joe Griggs went nuts.

People came just to watch and enjoy the wonderful evenings at the ball field. So many fabulous sunsets, the sounds of meadow larks and owls, the crack of the bat, good natured jeering and taunting, and afterwards a lot of players having a hamburger or a beer down at the Outlaw and laughing about the great hits, missed catches and other silly things that happened in the game.

It was about community.

PS I hope that you will add your memories of the softball games in the comments section below.
It might be fun to start a roster of the people who played and loved Baker Softball.

Bill Rountree, Rodney Wright, ? , Russ Groves

Modern Pioneers

As active members interested in preserving our valley from threats such as the Las Vegas water grab, Ken and I have been invited to share our perspectives of Snake Valley from time to time on this blog, so in this first blog, I'd like to introduce us.

My grandfather first came to Snake Valley as a miner in the 1930's and brought his wife and eight -soon to be nine- children with him. The first mine he leased was the Utah mine on the Fish Springs Range. The water at the mine was full of arsenic, so they hauled all their water from Callao 17 miles away. My mother was twelve years old at the time, but the need to preserve every drop of precious water made an indelible impact on her for the rest of her life. It may have been memories of hauling water which made homesteading in the valley, with water close to the surface, such an attractive proposition for my grandparents.

When Grandpa began homesteading in Snake Valley, he dug a "miner's well" with only hand tools. The well had a main shaft and "side drifts" to bring in more water. My first memory of that well was the nasty-tasting water. Although Snake Valley has delicious water, wells need to be significantly deeper than the top of the water table because the water close to the surface tastes of alkali.

I grew up raising tadpoles, catching frogs, collecting arrowheads, eating desert plants, and doing all the things desert children must have done for hundreds of years. I didn't live in a house with TV until I went to college. This has been a distinct handicap for playing Trivia, and I still amaze my husband with my lack of knowledge about early TV stars and shows.

Eventually, I met and married Ken who was raised in Tooele. Although he was a "city boy", Snake Valley had great appeal for him. He was interested in alternative energy and living "green" and he recognized the opportunity for experimentation. Our first great experiment was building our adobe home. It was hard work and has some limitations, but on the plus side, we never had a mortgage to pay off, and it has a very substantial feel.

We raised three children who spent their time raising tadpoles, making mud huts, and doing many of the things I did as a child. I continue to be amazed at the creativity desert life inspires in children. They are adept at finding entertainment in the smallest things and develop an appreciation of nature. Although our children have grown and have made their homes in other places, they stay closely connected to their original home.

Ken works part time at the West Desert High School and is pastor for a very small Christian congregation. I teach in one of the few remaining one-room schools in the country and am nearing retirement. Our school population has ebbed and flowed through the years, but we are now smaller than we have ever been since the Partoun school was established in 1949.

Snake Valley is made up of creative, determined, and self-sufficient people. The pioneer spirit that settled the west resides in the hearts of Snake Valley residents, and I am proud to be included in this small and select group of independent people. Preserving and protecting Snake Valley has become a very important issue for Ken and me. We are inheritors of a wonderful piece of nature and would like to pass it on to the next generation, so they can treasure it and benefit from it as we have.

Photo by Tom Nedreberg

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Water & Birds!

Well, at Gretchen's invitation I launch my initial foray into the blogeshpere. Hope it proves of interest to those who read.

Water has been the focus that has brought together a very disparate aggregation of somewhat strange "bedfellows" in the concerted effort to ensure that the very life blood we all depend on is not taken. Some places like Fish Springs need water to ensure that the charge to provide for wildlife that we have been given by Congress can be met. Some need water for cattle or farming operations and we all need to have water come out of the tap when we turn it on. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, we can't do those basic things that are critical to our respective life and job descriptions if the water is gone.

For nearly all of the Snake Valley residents, as has sure been the case for me, this process has been quite an education. I was not versed in geology, geohydrology, Utah and Nevada water law, or a whole host of other things I have had to learn to lead the charge to ensure the Refuge's water continues to provide the critical wildlife habitat here. I did have some limited concept of this thing we all now call the Regional flow system but never really had much of a concept regarding how much flow the various basins provided. The recent work and best "hydrological speculation" by the Utah Geological Survey and the results of the BARCASS study were a real eye opener. If you had asked me two years ago, I would have told you that I thought we got most of the flow to our springs from the east slope of the Deep Creek Range. If the current hydrological experts are correct in their speculation, boy was I wrong! It appears that only about about 1/8 of our total outflow volume comes from the Deep Creek Range while about half comes to us from the more southern portion of the Snake Valley north of US 50 and the remainder comes to us via the Fish Springs Flat and is a result of flow fed from the Whirlwind, Wah Wah, and Pine Valleys!

As a land manager and wildlife professional, I also have great concerns about the wetlands of the Snake Valley in this process. Aside from many being very critical habitat for least chub and spotted frog, they are also vital to the biodiversity of the valley. One does not have to spend too much time in the Snake Valley to see that springs and their associated wetlands are a minuscule portion of the land area. These sites are vital habitat for an amazing array of migratory and resident critters. Any reduction in their area and health will have a disproportional impact on the Valley's biodiversity and that would be a real tragedy.

On a different note, we have just completed our annual Audubon Christmas Bird count here at the Refuge. For those not familiar with this massive North American effort, it is sponsored each year by the National Audubon Society and includes thousands of counts in every state and even in Canada and South and Central America! All of this takes place in a thee week period wrapped around Christmas. Both Great Basin National Park and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge sponsor counts.

The object is to count all the species and total number of birds in a circle of some 15 miles in diameter in one 24 hour period! Quite an undertaking and one that requires a good cadre of volunteer counters to be successful. For our count at Fish Springs we had 16 dedicated individuals who braved a low temperature of 4 and only a high of 18 to help out.

These counters and thier efforts are often referred to as "citizen science." The vast majority of those involved are not biologist but rather folks who have varying degrees of ability to identify birds but all have a passion for "bird watching." They collectively, at the national and even international level, accomplish what no level of effort or organization among biologist could do. This massive survey effort results in a hemispheric "snapshot" in time of our wintering bird populations and the resulting trend data that has been generated over the years has been of enormous value. The Christmas Bird Count effort has been going on and growing for 108 years so collectively a lot of great data has been generated. The first red flag that waved for many of our bird species that are now the focus of fmany federal, state, and regional conservation agencies and international and local conservation organizations came from Christmas Count data which showed declining wintering populations trend for some species. For more information on these counts and how you can participate in your area go to .

In our Fish Springs count we noted 50 different species of birds and a total of 4,420 individual birds. The vast majority of those were closely associated with our thermal springs in this very cold weather. They depend on that open water for the basic life requirements to get through the winter. Let's hope that it can forever remain so.